Late last week NASCAR announced it is acquiring the Grand-Am sports car racing series. This matters to professional motorcycle racing because Grand-Am is the racing series owned by Roger Edmondson and Jim France, the President and Chairman respectively of Daytona Motorsports Group which now owns AMA Pro Racing.
Last night Dave Despain had Edmondson on Wind Tunnel. The interview was via telephone and fairly short, as it was the last call of the program. Despain asked Edmondson two questions, the first about the NASCAR purchase, the second was (paraphrased), “Am I wrong to think the situation in professional motorcycle road racing is a disaster?”
Edmondson’s response was a rather terse, “Yes, you are.” He then went on to explain, without specifics, that AMA Pro Racing is continuing to work behind the scenes to get the factories on board for 2009 and beyond, and that AMA Pro Racing is doing everything it can to let the factories know they are welcomed, wanted, and an important part of the future of professional road racing.
Edmondson’s response was less than convincing. Despain asked specifically about Honda and Edmondson was noncommittal. He did say that two of the factories are on board, but he would not go any further. Despain did not appear convinced, either. Here’s my amateur analysis of the situation.
I’ve said before that Edmondson is likely under pressure because of the goat rodeo road racing has become. While it’s probably not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare to see a reasonably successful business fall apart this badly, this fast.
Edmondson went on record in some of the early press conferences saying that this is his last hurrah, his last attempt at establishing a legacy. He wants this to work. At this point it clearly is not. His demeanor on the call was not friendly — not quite combative, but certainly not the jovial nature of someone who is feeling good about a program. It’s clear that he is feeling pressure about the situation.
There are several possible meanings we can read into the NASCAR/Grand-Am deal. Some, all, or none of them may be true.
From the Grand-Am perspective, this move serves to divorce the series from the chaos and bad PR that has hounded DMG since the AMA Pro Racing purchase. Grand-Am is a reasonably successful series. Though they do not have major manufacturer teams involved like their competitor ALMS (e.g. Audi), they have attracted some major teams like Ganassi and Penske. The series is on a very slow-growth path. At nine years old, the series is at a critical juncture. Having the management bogged down with the AMA debacle can only harm them.
NASCAR has a heavy investment in Grand-Am, and likely does not want anything to muck that up. So taking the series directly into the NASCAR fold stops potential sponsors and participants from getting sidetracked on issues of bad management.
Edmondson stated that Grand-Am and NASCAR had discussed the sale for some time. I think there’s a reason the sale happened now — to insulate Grand-Am from fallout.
Second, I suspect Edmondson is under pressure from the France family to get this train back on track, and relieving him of Grand-Am is the fastest way to clear his plate and make sure he is totally focused on the AMA Pro Racing problem. The France family is a significant investor in DMG, and no one wants to see their investment thrown away. The great thing about business is that it has a clear failure indicator. Losing money is failure. Losing it as fast and furiously as Edmondson seems to be doing is like shooting up a dozen rescue flairs and signaling SOS through the tornado sirens.
The last scenario is more ominous. Getting rid of Grand-Am makes AMA Pro racing a standalone entity, which makes it much easier to sell. If Edmondson can’t get this right, quickly, we may see the whole company put on the block. Potentially at a fire-sale price.
I would be surprised if this happens, but it could. There’s the alternate possibility that Edmondson could be replaced, but I don’t know if anyone in NASCAR has an interest in that. I don’t know that anyone else in the whole organization feels they could successfully run a motorcycle racing series. Especially given the magnitude of Edmondson’s (apparent) failure.
My guess is that Edmondson has been given an ultimatum — get this right or get out. Fast. I don’t think there will be a lot of patience for middling attempts at reconciliation or half-baked solutions. I think NASCAR has cleared his plate for a reason. They have insulated their other investments as best they can. They have isolated AMA Pro Racing as a standalone business unit.
We can expect to hear very little from AMA Pro Racing one way or the other. But if the 2009 season starts without at least three of the four major factories on the grid I predict we will see some sort of major ownership shakeup next year. This could screw up everything else that is going well in motorcycle racing, and cut the heart out of the positive changes happening in pro motocross. Whatever happens, 2009 will be an interesting year.